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Juan Gomez-Quinones
        History/Chicano Studies

            Most jobs require maintaining a separation between professional work activities and personal political commitments.  But like many other pioneering UCLA radicals, Chicano Studies Professor Juan Gomez-Quinones has spent his entire career erasing this normal divide.

            Gomez-Quinones got his start at UCLA as a student, eventually earning the hat trick of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.  Gomez-Quinones then began his professional career in 1965 as a UCLA history department teaching fellow, and has taught classes at a professional level since 1969.  1969 was also the same year that Gomez-Quinones  first distinguished himself as a radical in both thought and action by co-authoring El Plan de Santa Barbara.  EPSB is one of the two conceptual statements that to this day drive the radical Chicano movement, in particular, the student group Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), with which Gomez-Quinones was and continues to be deeply involved. 

            As analyzed on the BruinAlumni.com website, EPSB proposes a new Hispanic civil rights movement.  This cause, however, is predicated on establishing the new racial identity of “Chicano,” because, EPSB claims, “The Mexican American or Hispanic is a person who lacks self-respect and pride in one’s ethnic and cultural background.”  To guard against ideological deviation, EPSB cautions, “students must constantly remind the Chicano administrators and faculty where their loyalty and allegiance lie.”  EPSB further fanned these flames of paranoia by recalling, Too often in the past the dedicated pushed for a program only to have a vendido [Spanish slang for a Hispanic “sell-out”] sharp-talker come in and take over and start working for his Anglo administrator.”  EPSB, as co-authored by Gomez-Quinones, was a new vision for the Chicano political movement, a movement that would be accountable only to a select few radical Hispanic groups.  A section titled “Tying the campus to the barrio,” states, “The colleges and universities in the past have existed in an aura of omnipotence and infallibility.  It is time that they be made responsible and responsive to the communities in which they are located or whose members they serve.  As has already been mentioned, community members should serve on all programs related to Chicano interests.”  Expanding on this theme, EPSB declares, “The idea must be made clear to the people of the barrio that they own the schools and the schools and all their resources are at their disposal.”  Gomez-Quinones and his co-authors were particularly excited at the prospect of a small group of radical power elites wielding unrestricted power, and concluded in almost business-plan fashion that this “is an area which has great potential.”   

As a Chicano Studies professor and (obviously) a Chicano himself, Gomez-Quinones has based his entire political and personal world around personal ethnic identity.  But unlike some of the academic, political, or community leaders of his generation, Gomez-Quinones didn’t particularly mellow out once the radical excesses of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s had run their ugly course.  Rather, press accounts detail a constant stream of radical statements and actions going back at least to the mid-80’s, the outer reaches of digital newspaper archives.  Unsurprisingly, nearly every one of these accounts is related to race, particularly Gomez-Quinones’ personal identity as a Chicano.  In a May 5, 1987 Boston Globe news article, Gomez-Quinones expressed concern that the newly signed immigration and amnesty bill would “create a hardship on those [illegal] persons.  It is also going to create a hardship on those who hired them, either in agriculture or industry.  The law does not take into account fully the importance of the undocumented work force.” 

In hindsight, Gomez-Quinoines’ objections look ludicrous.  The 1987 “reforms” proved utterly toothless, and illegal immigration continued largely unabated.  Rather than discourage illegal border crossing, the bill’s broad amnesty did the opposite by giving future lawbreakers the (not unreasonable) expectation that another administration would eventually grant them the same privilege.  Gomez-Quinones’ complaint is most notable, though, because it mouths a typical extreme piece of illegal immigrant apologia, namely that the American and Californian economies would experience a workforce crisis should immigration policy be fully enforced.  In the article’s context, Gomez-Quinones implies that there is only one logical way of resolving this dilemma: the U.S. should eliminate any functional or legal distinction between citizens and non-citizens.  In short, Gomez-Quinones called for open borders.

  By 1990, it might have been expected that Gomez-Quinones’ life of academic reflection had dimmed his racialist ardor.  But between that year and 1993, Gomez-Quinones would actually experience his finest activist moments since his days as a student radical.  The trouble, predictably enough, revolved around UCLA’s interdepartmental program in Chicano Studies.  Undergraduate classes in the field were first offered in 1973, but according to a January 9, 1991 Los Angeles Times article, the program had fallen on hard times by 1988 due to supposed administrative “neglect” and other assorted ills.  The program’s difficulties actually led a Faculty Senate committee to, in February 1990, recommend the suspension of graduate admissions in the field.  It was at this point that Gomez-Quinones first emerged as a public figure in the dispute, helping to form a pressure group named United Community and Labor Alliance (U.C.L.A. – catchy, huh?).  The coalition was composed of the usual radical suspects: Mothers of East LA, One Stop Immigration, Janitors for Justice, and the Farm Workers Union. 

The Times article also reported that Gomez-Quinones’ activism was going far beyond mere organizational paper shuffling.  At a community meeting that year, Gomez-Quinones engaged in argument with then-UCLA Alumni Association president Ralph Ochoa.  Witnesses reported that the dispute became heated to the point that Gomez-Quinones invited Ochoa (also a University of California Regent!) to “step outside,” evidently with the goal of continuing the verbal altercation in a more physical fashion.  The most ironic part about the entire episode was that Ochoa had earlier interceded on behalf of the activists, wresting from Young’s administration approximately $150,000 in UCLA Foundation funds, and the promise of “a renewed commitment to Chicano studies.” 

Gomez-Quinones was not above using non-sequiturs to advance the long battle for Chicano Studies departmental status.  In 1992, the UCLA Daily Bruin reported on two separate fraternity scandals.  The first involved a Phi Kappa Psi songbook that contained arguably racist and misogynistic lyrics; the second incident revolved around a Theta Xi pledge education manual that according to critics “promote[d] sexually violent, racist, and homophobic attitudes.”  It was this second item that drew Gomez-Quinones’s fury.  The October 7, 1992 Daily News of Los Angeles aired his complaints that “This latest attack on Mexican women, women, gays and lesbians and others demonstrates the Young administration’s failure to effectively curb the perpetuation of racism and sexism by administrators and campus groups at UCLA.”  As proper punishment for these mild misdeeds, Gomez-Quinones called for UCLA to cut affiliation with all 32 fraternities and 20 sororities “in the interest of freeing the student body of their continual propagation of violence and hate toward women and minorities.” 

The capper in this whole fiasco, however, was the contention of Gomez-Quinones and other militant Hispanics.  These alleged hate incidents, they argued, were proof that the Chicano Studies department needed to receive full departmental status.  The “formation of a Chicano studies department,” so the idea went, would “enhance understanding of Latino culture” in the campus at large, apparently thereby putting an end to production of largely meaningless juvenilia that characterizes any large group of college-age men.  The argument, however, was nothing but a pretext for another power grab by radical minority activists.  Nobody really believed that awarding departmental status to the Chicano Studies program would somehow ensure UCLA’s transition into a racially sensitive haven of political correctness.  But it certainly sounded good, which in politics is usually all that matters.

While Gomez-Quinones and the racialist crowd were in the end not successful in running the Greeks off campus altogether, they did succeed in muzzling a formerly exuberant part of campus life, driving much of the Greek system into relative hiding.  Even better, by 1993, Gomez-Quinones and his fellow Hispanic radicals succeeded in gaining de facto departmentalization of the Chicano Studies program.  Early in that year, however, success seemed anything but certain.  In April 1993, 11 of 15 members of a committee tasked with investigating the departmentalization issue agreed on the basic necessity of departmentalization, but split 7 to 4 on the specifics.  In response to this division, Young left the situation as it was, leading to Gomez-Quinones’ May 21, 1993 Los Angeles Times letter to the editor, which complained,

“The Charles Young administration at UCLA has demonstrated that authority without institutional logic or moral suasion can act with unappealable force. Despite compelling arguments for a Chicano studies department, and deep and wide support by faculty and a generation of students, Chancellor Young has once again denied a petition supporting its establishment, leaving no possibility for appeal.”

Having issued this rather vague condemnation, Gomez-Quinones then delved into specifics, revealing the gap between reality and his radical worldview.  Gomez-Quinones praised the students “supporting the department [who] demonstrated against the Chancellor’s decision,” only to be set upon by a vicious “LAPD force armed with helicopters, special units and 200 officers.”  In Gomez-Quinones’ narrative, “the LAPD pointed to a few broken windows, and without proof, summarily arrested and charged more than 80 students under grossly excessive felony vandalism charges.”  Gomez-Quinones shook his head wonderingly at the complete implausibility of it all.  What could possibly have caused the “trembling UCLA administrators” in their “peculiar arrogance” to ask the LAPD to engage in “its old tricks”?

Gomez-Quinones knew very well what brought the arrests on, but refused to let facts get in the way of making a radical point.  The fact was that 91 protestors (a large number of them not students) had capped a typical cross-campus protest march with an illegal take-over of the privately run, non-partisan UCLA Faculty Club.  A letter to the editor from Paul D. Sheats, the President of the Faculty Club noted that the students, far from mistakenly breaking a “few … windows,” as Gomez-Quinones airily phrased it, had actually “smashed windows within a few feet of our [occupied] lunch tables…rifled a purse, stole a wallet and tossed car keys in a toilet.  Walls were defaced, [and] honorary plaques [were] cut.”  The damage was estimated at $35,000 to $50,000.  Contrary to Gomez-Quinones’ claim, arresting the participating students for their presence or participation at the site of the mayhem could hardly be described as “grossly excessive.”  Nevertheless,  Gomez-Quinones closed the letter with one of his more typical appeals, claiming that “a Chicano studies department at UCLA is one of [the] right vehicles for creating … understanding.  It is time that these matters be negotiated over a table in good faith.”

What an admirable exercise in bald-faced roguery.  Gomez-Quinones and the students he supported had managed to retool the old heckler’s veto into an outright rioter’s veto, all in the service of objecting to Young’s final adverse decision.  At first glance, the possibility of succeeding with violent tactics might seem remote or worse.  Surely Young wouldn’t be bullied back into negotiations.  But before dismissing the possibility, remember the 1992 Los Angeles riots (at that point, merely a year gone by).  The riots were cast not as pure criminality, but also as a cry of rage by an oppressed people.  Punishment, to be sure, was doled out, but it was mixed liberally with reward.  City, state and even federal funds that would have otherwise never touched the area were directed to address South Central Los Angeles’ problems.  Having learned this lesson well, Gomez-Quinones urged that UCLA offer the same perverse response to the Chicano Studies riots.  These students cared so much, Gomez-Quinones essentially claimed, that they were willing to commit pointless crimes against innocent targets.  Surely Young couldn’t stay resolute in the face of wrong actions taken for all the right reasons.

Despite Gomez-Quinones’ urging, the riot in itself only hardened Young’s resolve.  But on May 25, 1993, a group of nine Hispanic radicals that included eight high school and college students and one UCLA professor, began a hunger strike that would eventually run 14 days.  This polarizing tactic was a breakthrough that would eventually bring UCLA and Young to their knees. 

While the hunger strike encampment outside of the Murphy Hall administration building was the symbolic face of the issue, there was far more muscle being applied behind the scenes.  A June 24, 1993 Los Angeles Times article noted that up-front negotiations involved “a team of UCLA deans and vice chancellors [who] discussed the issue with all nine hunger strikers, other Chicano student leaders and Chicano faculty members.”  Among the Chicano faculty members was Gomez-Quinones.  Also in the Murphy Hall conference room were [State Senator Art] Torres and fellow state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), and key members of the United Community and Labor Alliance, including Vivien Bonzo, Gilbert Cedillo [a UCLA MEChA alum] and Juan Jose Gutierrez.”  Torres belied his seemingly lofty Senator status by involving himself deeply in the murk of the collegiate negotiations.  At one point, Torres even credibly threatened to withhold funds earmarked for UCLA should the administration not come to the bargaining table.  Torres also appeared at a June 3rd UCLA rally in favor of departmentalization, alongside Cesar Chavez’s son Fernando, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Hernandez and actor Edward James Olmos.

In the end, the two sides hammered out a compromise which offered the Chicano Studies program quasi-departmental status.  Young claimed that the strikers had gained little more than what they had been offered to begin with.  Whether that was true, other aspects of the so-called “Hunger Strike Agreement” sounded a full retreat on Young’s part.  Not only did Young rescind for the next two years a planned 10% cut to ethnic and women’s studies, but he also asked the city attorney not to press charges against 84 of the 91 protesters.  For the remaining seven offenders, Young offered an even more pathetic capitulation.  In return for the donation of two works of art by Chicano artists “Gronk” and “Elo,” (the pair allegedly had a combined worth of $25,000), Young declared the riot damage of $35,000 to $50,000 paid in full, and let the matter drop.  As a sourly amusing footnote to the whole matter, Gronk’s “The Mug,” was hung in the UCLA Faculty Center, the very scene of the crime, as if meant as a final insult from the radical Hispanics.

An interesting footnote to the whole episode involves Marcos Aguilar, one of the hunger strikers.  While in 1993 Aguilar was going by the nigh-unspellable Azteco-babble name of “Huitzilixtlitiu,” he had reverted to his normal name at some point in the intervening years, and had become a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher.  In 2002, news reports noted that Aguilar was opening a charter school in a former Masonic Lodge in El Sereno.  Aguilar’s “Academia Semillas del Pueblo Charter School”  bills itself as being “dedicated to providing urban children of immigrant native families an excellent education founded upon their own language, cultural values and global realities.”  If that wasn’t code-worded enough, a look at the school’s governance, if it could be called such, gives a strong idea of just what this school represents:

“We draw from traditional indigenous Mexican forms of social organization known as the Kalpulli, founded upon the principles of serving collective interests, assembling an informed polity, and honestly administering and executing collective decisions.” 

And if that weren’t precious enough, the school also boasts a “Plebecito” (Plebiscite) and “Colectivas de Ensenanza” (Teaching Collectives).  It’s not surprising that a Hispanic radical dedicated enough to starve for Chicano Studies departmental status could conceive of this errant educational quest.  But who could be loopy enough to sign on to a school run on this bizarre “collective decision-making” basis?  Who had already forgotten, or disregarded, the comical failure of hippie communes, and the less-funny mass starvation caused by Soviet or Chinese collectivization?  Why, none other than the cream of the racialist Hispanic intellectual crop: Aztlan irredentists like Dr. Rodolfo (Rudy) Acuna, Noemi G. Ramirez, Esq., (whose occupation is the conveniently vague “Immigration Attorney”), and Dr. Reynaldo Macias of UCLA.  Oh, and one other person – Dr. Juan Gomez-Quinones.  Life truly is a circle sometimes.

Gomez-Quinones’ role in the Chicano Studies issue was hardly a one-time outburst of radicalism.  The April 13, 1996 issue of People’s Weekly World noted Gomez-Quinones’ presence at a protest march over a 1996 incident in which two Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputies supposedly beat (illegal) Mexican immigrants Enrique Funes Flores and Alicia Sotero Vasquez.  In his speech to the marchers, Gomez-Quinones declared, “The right wing is attacking immigrants, women, racial groups, labor and others in a way we absolutely oppose.”  Gomez-Quinones, the World also noted, “emphasized the need to defend unions and organizing drives as part of the fight for immigrant rights.”  As we saw earlier, however, hindsight is not Gomez-Quinones’ friend.  History shows that in the immediate aftermath of the televised altercation, Officer Tracy Watson was fired, while his partner Kurtis Franklin was suspended.  However, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office never found grounds for filing criminal charges, and in April 1999, the statue of limitations for doing so expired.  In 2000, a Riverside County Superior Court judge found that while Watson used “excessive force,” the officer should have been suspended rather than fired, a decision that was upheld in 2002 by the state appeals court.  As far as the beating representing “right wing attacks,” news accounts don’t tell us whether the officers were “right wing,” but they do note that the incident was the culmination of an 80-mile law enforcement pursuit of a van filled with illegal immigrants that had run through the Temecula border patrol checkpoint without stopping.  Perhaps it need not normally be said, but one way to keep sheriff’s deputies, or the nebulous “right wing” off your back, is not to enter the United States as an illegal immigrant in a van that leads law enforcement on an 80-mile freeway chase.  That’s just my two cents, of course.

In that same year of 1996, Gomez Quinones served on the 27-member planning committee of Coordinadora 96, a series of racialist Chicano-themed events, mostly marches and rallies, held across the country that year.  Coordinadora was a deeply radical venture, epitomized by its seven-point platform.  Their manifesto called for the retention of affirmative action, citizen review boards of police departments, a $7 per hour minimum wage, the expansion of health services, free public education for all, human and constitutional rights for all, and, in an idea that should sound very familiar already, an extended amnesty program for illegal immigrants.  It seems that the more things change with Gomez-Quinones, the more they stay the same.

While it might seem that radical Hispanic issues are Gomez-Quinones’ only area of concern, there are a few notable exceptions.  Gomez-Quinones was one of a select number of names that appeared in the October 4, 2002 Los Angeles Times Not In Our Name (NION) anti-war advertisement.  Two days later, he popped up at a NION rally in Westwood and was part of a celebrity-studded group that recited parts of the NION Statement of Conscience to the crowd.  Gomez-Quinones read his part in Spanish, natch

Lest it seem that this review is cherry-picking rare instances of radicalism, there is far more from Gomez-Quinones where the previous came.  Gomez-Quinones appeared at an April 28-30, 1995 international conference on immigrant workers titled “Sin Fronteras” (Without Borders), a theme that certainly sounds familiar.  Gomez-Quinones also spoke at a “Conference on Raza Press, Media and Popular Expression: Its History And Its Use As A Tool for Liberation.” 

 Along that same power-fist-pumping line, Gomez-Quinones graced the 2nd Annual Barrio Bookfest held October 1, 2005, speaking as a panelist on “Progressive/Revolutionary Raza Press, Its Past, Present, and Future.”  Per the description, “This panel will examine the role of the Raza Press and Its Struggle To Give A Voice To An Oppressed and Colonized People.”  Lastly, Gomez-Quinones appeared at a February 8, 2002 Liberty Hill Foundation Organizer Training Series on the topic of “Making Peace in Our Time: Lessons from the Anti-War Movement of the Vietnam Era.” Gomez-Quinones  appeared alongside (drum roll please…) Tom Hayden, who he’d also worked with during the Chicano Studies departmentalization negotiations, and spoken alongside at the 1996 immigrant beating march.

Despite all his hard work in the academic groves, Gomez-Quinones does not feel confident about America’s future.  As a partial remedy, Gomez-Quinones wrote an Open Letter to Youth and Students attending the 2005 MEChA National Conference.  In the Letter, Gomez-Quinones suggests that attendees broaden their minds by reading Motorcycle Diaries, which celebrates Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, the Malcolm X Autobiography, which celebrates a black revolutionary, and lastly, Bob Avakian’s memoirs, From Ike to Mao and Beyond.  Avakian, Gomez-Quinones advises, “is ready to share dreams, his and ours…[and] do the work of getting to the other side of history.”  Bob Avakian is also the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, U.S.A.  And, as it turns out, Gomez-Quinones’ recommendation is not an idle one.  He showed up in person at the May 25, 2005 release party for Avakian’s book, an event also attended by none other than UCLA lecturer Paul Von Blum.

Gomez-Quinones is, like every other radical UCLA professor, unafraid of bringing his personal politics into the classroom.  While UCLA was busy feting him in 2003 and 2004 for winning the Rosenfield Distinguished Community Partnership Prize, his students were complaining about their own less than award-winning experience.  Student reviews on BruinWalk.com note among other problems, “he is discriminatory towards students that are not of Chicano descent.”  Another student is more specific, charging,

“This so-called teacher taught like he was a Mexican KKK member.  He breeds hate, doesn’t prepare for lecture, [and] shares political views that are not pertinent.  In four years of upper education, he ranks as the worst professor I have had and should be barred from promoting hate and bigotry in his classroom where poor students are held captive to his rambling.” 

Even those who might seem like natural fans of his are critical.  A Chicano Studies major complains, “I learned more from the TAs [teaching assistants] than from the professor.  Avoid him!”  And, as a final verdict, two different students suggest that Gomez-Quinones “needs to be reviewed by the history department,” a serious charge so unusual that appears in the reviews of no other professor profiled on UCLAProfs.com.